Are You Happy? You’ll Live Longer!

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May is Mental Health Month, so – while I most likely will not post every day – when I post, the date will coincide with the letter of the alphabet from A-Z. Today is May 8th so we will focus on a mental health trait starting with the letter H.

According to this article from the National Institution for Mental Health,  life expectancy in the U.S. has definitively increased. This should not be surprising, if we consider medical treatments, technology, and vaccines available today that weren’t in the early 20th century. The article states that longevity has increased “from 51 years in 1910 to nearly 79 years (81 years in women, 76 years in men) in 2010.”

Since I know my perception changes with my attitude toward any problem situation in my life, I’m often curious about how others deal with illness (in general, not just those with mental health issues). Does anyone know of the “belly laugh” experiment by Dr. Norman Cousins in 1964? It’s an amazing story. After returning from a stressful time in Russia, Dr. Cousins “was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen), which left him in almost constant pain and motivated his doctor to say he would die within a few months.”

Instead of giving up, Dr. Cousins dug deep. He watched humorous shows on TV and read funny books, comics, and so forth. He claimed that a mere 10 minutes of belly laughs would allow him two hours of sleep without pain when even morphine couldn’t help. Defying all odds, he was able to return to work full-time within two years! In 1979 Cousins wrote a book, Anatomy of An Illness, in which he shared the astonishing results of his experiment.

Though I can’t say that we all should try the doctor’s method, it certainly ought to give us pause. Although striving for more happiness to boost our mental health does not guarantee a longer life, it is said that people who are mentally ill tend to die at least 10 years earlier than their more healthy peers.

How happy are you? 🙂

Peace,

Chris

Self-conscious much? Do something!

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Probably each of us has, at one time or another, felt self-conscious about ourselves. I’m sure even actors (John Cusack), and people in high-powered positions have those times when they’d really rather not be there. It’s too hard sometimes to be with other people you’re sure are better than you; a better person, better wife/husband, daughter/son, mother/daughter, people in general. 

I’ll tell you something about myself, but you have to promise to keep it secret. “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” There are many things I do ritualistically and some things I can’t do at all. IF I go to Starbucks, I first look online to see what the slowest time will be, go then, even if it’s not uil 7:00 at night. I’m sure to take the garbage out when it is still dark, and that’s when I pick up yesterday’s mail as well (I don’t like to be seen walking down the driveway during the day — too many eyes on me). It’s not a narcissistic thing. It’s paranoia and huge, insurmountable fear. I walked my dog Pookie once, it was the most natural and most pleasurable walk I’d ever had (not because I forgot about myself for a change) but because I had the perfect harness and leash so that my dog walked right next to me.

Still, I looked down at the ground a lot. When I looked up, I was careful not to focus on anything too much, because someone might notice. I counted steps, and when I wasn’t counting, I was saying to myself, “left, right, left, right.” Anything to get through it and be sure the dog got some exercise. Sometimes (seriously) I’d rather have a root canal than put myself through all this bullshit.

How can anyone get through something like this? The only words that have ever helped me are from my 90-year-old mother.

She said two things that have just begun to take hold. The first wise, experienced words she said were, “Chris if you knew how much people didn’t think about you at all, you’d be surprised.” And she’s right, you know? When on the porch smoking, I might glance up and see someone walking, either alone or with a dog, I might say “Good morning, nice day,” or whatever, then go straight back to book. It doesn’t register on my radar. It’s something I see people do every day.

The other thing is this: “All you can do is try. If you fail, try again, and keep trying. That’s all you can do, the best you have in you.”

Love you, Mom,

Chris

 

NEW! BOOK POST! Dear Kindle,

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“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”–from a sonnet by Elizabeth Barett Browning

Oh my goodness, Kindle. My affair with you has been on again/off again. I was highbrow and holier-than-thou.

“Kindles? Oh, I rarely read them. I like the feel of the pages as I turn them. I love the smell of new and old books…I love the smell period.”

I was that person. Also, I was the kind of person who would “go along to get along,” so when someone would say “Oh dear. I would never dog-ear a book. And cracking the binding of a paperback? You’ve got to be kidding? Who does that?” I’d be right along, sniffing my upturned nose.

Well, I’m not a book snob anymore. Yes, when I was young until after college (and sometimes if I can’t find a scrap of paper to bookmark the page), I dog-eared. And yes, thirty flogs with a wet noodle, I still crack the spines of paperbacks. It’s an OCD thing. I break the binding at specific intervals: p. 50, p. 100…It feels like – symmetrical, something I am compelled to do. I also write in my books and underline passages. Bad, bad me. 

Currently, dear Kindle, you hold 2,929 books for me! That’s astonishing. I can read you in the dark, on the porch, long ashes growing forgotten from my cigarette, oblivious of everything except the stray lightning bug that lands in my hair. Even then, unless it stays there, I’m immersed. My actual hard copy books can’t compete. I easily slip you into my purse, so that – if a social gathering gets too intense – I can pop outside and read a few pages, taking myself far, far away.

Sweet, unassuming Kindle, I might surely die before I read all the books you hold for me. If that happens, I’ll request they bury you with me and I’ll finish in Heaven.

Love,

Chris

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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Let’s be honest. We all want/need to be loved. Newborn babies who are not held or touched, actually die. We all want someone to say “I love you and I always will. You are important. I’ll try my hardest to never let you down. I’m here.”

I’ve learned in the last four months that animals have many of the same emotions as human beings. That shouldn’t really surprise us. I mean, my previous dog suffered from pancreatitis,  so we know they share at least one biological, internal organ as do we. But it is fascinating to read something like this: Brain Scans Show Striking Similarities between dogs and humans

A little over four months ago, I adopted a dog who had been through the hurricane in Flordia. So he most likely suffered PTSD, as humans do when we suffer something horrific. He lost his family and was moved from place to place to place until he came to live with me. I think intellectually I knew it would be difficult, but was terribly unprepared emotionally for all the emotions and behaviors he expressed that worried me. To be honest, three weeks ago I seriously thought about placing him with another owner, because I wanted a better life for him, and I didn’t think he could have that with me. I’m still in contemplation. Don’t judge me.

I’ve learned some things during this time with my little man (an affectionate nickname), some things that pertain to both anxious humans and dogs both:

1, Be patient. This is maybe the most basic and most difficult practice, patience. Things happen in their own time, and if we try to rush them we most likely will end up mucking it all up, left with feelings of frustration and irritation. PTSD is essentially a form of anxiety. There are all kinds of theories about a dog’s memory. Some people would say my dog has gotten over his anxiety, fear, skittishness, isolation, or whatever else. Others would say it takes a while to move from that feeling. Forgetting isn’t always easy for dogs. They remember when they’ve been abused. And how do we explain the reaction and memory of a dog who would completely knock down his owner and lavish her with kisses after she’s done a year-long tour of duty? Which bring me to number two.

2. It’s not about you. It’s rough not to take things personally when dealing with animals. Don’t we all have that picture in our minds of the lab laying his paw on his owner’s head, the man on his porch, complete with the breathless sunset? Ha ha. Yeah. It’s a beautiful image, but it’s not always that way, and even if it is, it takes work and patience. But maybe, like me, you’ve taken into your home an animal that mostly distrusts you (you think), but then jumps on you when you come home. It’s puzzling  and sometimes heartbreaking.

3. It is what it is. This is a rough translation for “radical acceptance,” which means accepting what is in front of us completely, absolutely, without taking away or adding to. It means we stop fighting what’s real, and in doing so, we hurt less. We don’t hold on so tightly. We try to remind ourselves that nothing stays the same: good times don’t last, or bad, or complicated, or simple. They just are. Like a drowning person, we won’t survive our rescue until we accept the fact we’re drowning and someone has come to save us.

5. Be calm. I’ve heard it said, when “growing” a dog, that they often take on the personality of their owner. So if we are calm and happy, our dogs/cats might also become calm and happy – again, depending on the circumstance.  So if we are Woody Allen stereotype anxious or worried, our animals might be the same. My mother always says to me if I didn’t have something to worry about, I’d make one (I’m worried that I’m not worried? lol). A happy medium is probably best.

7. Give yourself a break. I’m quick to judge myself’ and I assume I’m not the only one to do so. I’ve made many mistakes working with my little man Pookie. I’ve not always been consistent, which I understand is crucial for training. Sometimes I say, “Pookie, come,” in the happiest, cheerful tone I can manage. When Pookie sits there at the top of the steps musing his options, I say (probably a little louder) “Come on, Pookie!” accompanied by an inviting pat to my knee. Finally, I give in to “Pookie Stachura, come here right now. I mean it.” In which case he eventually comes. Or, when none of that works (he can be as stubborn aattention s me!), I’ll try waving my hands down the stairs, calling “Hurry hurry hurry!” Yet, he’s gotten away from me four times – three by just pulling hard, and one when he slipped out of his collar. Each time, my frantic “Pookie, come!”brings him back, where he sits, calmly, usually behind me.*sigh* My point is, we need to cut ourselves some slack. Puppies have the span of a gnat. Three-to-five minutes five times a day is the most to hope for, and that might even be too much. Ending on a good note, where he actually gets the command, is jackpot. Go easy. Keep it simple. And remind yourself that two steps forward, one step back is still one step forward. 🙂

This has been my first post in quite a while. I try my very best to supply information in a fun, sometimes funny manner.

Have a great day.

Chris

A is for Acceptance

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Acceptance is a difficult concept to deal with, even if we’re not talking about alcoholism. None of us wants to be unacceptable, or excluded from a group, whether we’re small children, adolescents, or older adults. The synonyms for acceptance are many, among them approval and recognition.

I know a young woman who is gay. She has found a woman she loves, is very happy, and engaged to be married. Most people she knows are very happy for her happiness, but not all are as accepting. Some are even judgmental, saying she and her partner would always be welcome in their home, but they would never attend her wedding. This makes no sense to me, and seems more than a little hypocritical. If you accept the fact that someone is gay, you recognize it, you approve of the lifestyle she/he has chosen.

With my sister, it’s different, but somewhat the same. She’s been sober for a while now, and attended several family gatherings as a sober alcoholic. I don’t drink often, mostly at major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, my mom laughs at me, because I will see a drink recipe shown on The Chew or something, get all excited about it, buy all the ingredients, bring them home, and then the liquor sits in our cupboards, because I’ve immediately lost interest. :P)

Back to my sister. I never used to drink around her. I thought it was a sign of solidarity if I joined her in not drinking. Recently, I’ve realized it was actually codependency, and I was not allowing her a sense of self-esteem, and achievement all her own. She’s very capable, and strong in her own right. But I’m sure she feels that exclusion, that non-acceptance among non-alcoholics, even though she’s accepted by her recovering alcoholic friends. I still laugh when I remember going with her to an open talk AA meeting at Sacred Heart in downtown Detroit. I was so nervous I wouldn’t even smoke, even though I badly wanted a cigarette. One of her friends finally leaned over to me and said, “So, do you have any vices?”

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 417)

Birth Order

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birth orderLast year, on one of his visits home from San Francisco, my brother Paul brought a t-shirt he’d bought which bore the saying “Mom loves me best.” He wore it to an outdoor picnic at which most of the family was in attendance; it was very funny and caused quite a lot of discussion. Even more funny, he left it with me when he went back! 😛

Paul is the second to youngest of seven siblings. I’m the youngest. My sister Carol is the oldest, then there’s Greg, Steve, Jerry, Jimmy, Paul, and me.

My sister said she prayed and prayed for another little sister and when I came it was like a miracle. We’re 13 years apart, and so I was like a little doll for her, and she loved to dress me up. I sure never suffered from lying in the crib too long, with five brothers, a sister, a mom, and a dad all eager to hold or cuddle me.

Carol did get that part of being the eldest where the parents made all their “mistakes” on her, and learned on her, and on each child to come really, so that by the time Paul and I came around they had this parenting thing down pat. Carol also still has a huge sense of responsibility, borne out of being the oldest child. She felt more was expected of her.

I thought my brother Greg would have that as well, being the oldest boy, but he has a very laid-back personality, and is never in a hurry. A story is told of Greg when he was quite little and the lady was waiting outside to take the boys to school. Everyone else is ready, and Greg is looking out the window, one shoe off, and one shoe on, marveling “Hey look! That lady is here!” He couldn’t understand why his mom was so excited. Ha ha ha

Every one of my sibs seemed so much older to me. The closest in age was, of course, Paul, and he was still five years older. So even when they tried to play with me, it felt odd, like I was playing with much older boys. When I was in grade school, they were in high school, after all. When I was in high school, they were in college, and beyond. I played by myself a lot, and with invisible friends, until I made friends in the neighborhood. After that I was rarely home before the streetlights came on.

Anyway, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to support the theory that birth order affects your personality. Ultimately environmental conditions, such as socioeconomic conditions, shape who we are and what we become.

(N.B.: We’re skipping neuroplasticity. Sorry for any grief this has caused.)

Have a wonderful evening!

Ciao Bella.

Double-Edged Sword

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D (1)Okay. First, I just have to say that I’m writing this on my new HP Mini Laptop Stream, which is pink, so very light, and so gosh darn cute!

Picture this: a professional runner at her mark. Her head is down, her feet set at the blocks, waiting for the starter’s signal. She quickly brushes away something you can’t see with the tips of her fingers. As the camera zeroes in on her, you see a few drops of perspiration slide from the runner’s forehead, nose, chin, and hit the ground below. She licks her dry lips. She checks the runner on her left and right. She turns her head straight out in front of her toward the path ahead, then hears the starter’s signal go off and kicks off the blocks.

What exactly is that? Is it stress, anxiety? But–at least for me—when I’m overcome with anxiety, I’m a hot mess, curled up in a ball somewhere, or on the phone with my best friend. Hence, the double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. Anxiety can work for us or it can overwhelm us. In the case of the pro runner, she has found a way to make it work for her. The challenge is to always manage to find a way to do that, emphasis on the word challenge. 

For instance, I shared with my therapy group that I was super proud of myself that I had gotten the mail during the day two times that past week. Instead of just being happy for me, I’ve been challenged to do it again this week. *le sigh* I only have Monday and Tuesday left to go to accomplish this task, as the group meets Tuesday afternoon.

Do something brave, just because you can!

Peace out.
double edged sword

The Reality About Anxiety

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fine

Take a long look at this sort of Justine Bateman Look-alike (or maybe it really is her). Do you think she has sand in her eye, or do think maybe she’s crying? Yet the message she’s sending out “to the world” is “I’m fine.” Have you ever been there, done that? I know I have, in the middle of tears, great big sobbing-blubbering-get-that-girl-a-hanky tears . . . I’m like “It’s o-o-okay. I’m fine.”

Then we have this fellow, some sort of coach, but I don’t follow sports all that chewing lipmuch, so… But unless you’re also someone who gets anxious, you might not notice this when you look at him. He chews the inside of his mouth. It’s something I do when I get stressed, too, because it’s the least obvious of picking on my fingernails or pacing. He really looks worried, though. I say, if it helps him in this moment (until he can find something that doesn’t hurt the inside of his cheek), there are worse things he could be doing.

mailboxShe’s being funny, of course, and referring to getting enough exercise walking back and forth to pick up the mail. But I’ve mentioned how difficult it is for me to pick up the mail, right? Sometimes my mom and I have to wait a few days for me to get up the courage, like I’ll pick up three days worth of mail at the same time. Ugh. Such an idiot, not being able to do such a supposedly simple thing. Well, agoraphobia can be like that.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about pretty much everything. So the cartoon dreadof the hammer about to come down on the nail actually did make me chuckle a little because it’s how I so often feel and I was like, “Yes! That’s it!” Especially the fact he’s so self-absorbed he doesn’t think enough to look down and see what happened to the other nail. That happens, we get so caught up in our own anxiety it can affect our relationships.deep breathingI hope this ecard doesn’t offend anyone. The fact is, anxiety–all forms of it–is a serious matter that deserves care and needs to be understood. In fact, during April’s Blogging from A-Z I plan to do a whole series on anxiety, which I hope will be both educational and fun(funny?). If you’ve read this far, God bless you, Gesundheit, and thank you for not smoking.

Anticipation…..it’s making me wait!

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dr. walkerIt was hard to wait all morning to meet my new therapist, Dr. Walker. Anticipation and expectation had my mind going in all sorts of directions. “Will he want me as a client? Will he decide I’m just too much to deal with? What if he gets sick of me?….What if..he can’t fix me?”

Then I got lost. There are only two things that can terrify me more than anything. Getting lost and not finding my way or, worse than that, when a spider drops off the ceiling without my knowledge and lands on my person. I think the spider is scarier. ‘Cause I found my way to Dr. Walker.

What do I like best about him? He’s funny and has a great laugh. I told him how my irritability from the mania has spread to strangers. You know how people will sometimes pull right up to the gas station door if they just have to run in to buy cigs or a Pepsi or something? Even though there are perfectly good parking spots for just such a reason, including handicapped spots? Now, I know it’s really cold out, true. But I park in the spots and, by extension, so should every other person on God’s green earth.

Yesterday, two people were pulled up in front of the gas station when I parked and went in. As each of them came out of the door, I said (I still can’t believe this), “Is it that cold out? You see there are parking spots to park. In fact, I’m in such a spot.”

And you know how Dr. Walker reacted? He laughed. LOVE that. Because by the time I was done telling the story I was laughing too. I normally would shrug off people who park there. What’s the big deal? So what? Walk around them. They’re in a hurry; there’s a fire. 😉

The other thing I like is his approach to treatment, although I only remember two things he said, one of which is above. I made a quote meme out of it. The other thing he said at the end was, “I need you to contract not to suicide, because I can’t treat you if you’re dead.” Ha ha ha ha

Peace out. xo

A Whole Lot of Love

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Love

At Saturday’s meeting there was another double winner, like me, a friend of mine (at least, she signed my sheet, so I count her among  my friends now 😉 ) who is in both AA and Al-Anon. She mentioned when it was her time to share that she was celebrating that very day 27 YEARS of sobriety. Whoo hoo!!!

All meetings have a different sort of “flavor,” and this meeting is much looser, and allows crosstalk. We allow questions and direct statements back and forth to each other because we are a very small and close-knit group. It’s just how we are. Most groups don’t allow that, because it tends to put people off and they then don’t feel very willing to share their story.

Anyway, what I did was, I asked her “How’d you do it?”, which is a question oft-asked of people who get a token for achievements such as this. People want to know how one made it through even a month of such an achievement, let alone 27 years.

Well, “J”, my dear friend, simply said, “It was love. A whole lot of love.” And then she couldn’t talk anymore about it because she got pretty choked up.

Love pretty nearly does make the world go ’round. God’s love, through Him, and through His people.

Peace out.

P.S. Got three more phone numbers of potential friends Monday morning. Yay me!! 🙂

Chris’s Recovery Manifesto

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I wrote this for myself, but feel free to take and leave whatever works for you. We’re all in this thing called recovery together, right? We need to help each other as much as we can. 😉 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHRIS’S RECOVERY MANIFESTO

Boundaries are good. They’re important.

There is no such thing as too many meetings.

It’s okay to need people.

“No” does not require an explanation.

If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. If it comes out anyway, be prepared to make amends.

Always follow through.

It’s okay to be human; mistakes happen. What’s important is the getting back up part.

Call your sponsor.

Stop worrying about what other people think of you. It’s none of your business what they think of you.

Do the best you can; at the end of the day that’s all you can do.

Pray always. Pray about everything, the little things and the big things. Say thank you, regardless of what happens.

Never take the steps out of order. They were written that way for a reason.

Let go and let God.

Breathe. Breathe again.

Remember that you can’t save anyone, not even yourself. That’s God’s job.

Stop trying to control the moon and the stars. They were here long before you, and they function quite fine without your help.

People are who they are. Accept that and avoid much heartache.

Love them anyway.

Live big. Dream big. Laugh long and hard.

Have goals. Change them as necessary.

Always love and know that someone loves you.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Note: I reserve the right to add to and edit this manifesto as I grow and learn more about myself and this thing called life. 


Peace out.

L is for Laughter

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When I attend an Al-Anon meeting, I will usually hear laughter at least once or twice while everyone settles in, and then during the sharing itself – even through tears sometimes!

It still surprises me, and I’ve discussed this with my sponsor. How can people in so much distress on one hand be LAUGHING and joyous? It didn’t make sense to me! I couldn’t find anything to laugh about. There was nothing funny about my situation, thankyouverymuch.

And I was, of course, supremely unique. 😉

When I listen to AA open talks there is much laughter, and at those points I’M thinking, “That wasn’t funny at all. What was so funny about that?”

It’s about perspective of course, and having some distance from the situation you are in. Laughter is also closely related to crying, which is why sometimes we can “laugh until we cry.” There is the thought that, given the choice, it’s better to laugh than cry, which could be why I hear so much of it around the meetings.

Recently, when sharing at a Sunday meeting, I guess I forgot myself and made a joke while talking. Everyone started to laugh. WITH me, not at me. Which loosened me up more, and made me see the humor in my situation. It was a very good thing. 😀

Generally, laughter is my great friend. I love to laugh. Just lately, it’s been tough to see humor in everything. You know?

Things that make me laugh: Lucy, puppies, babies, myself, a well-delivered joke . . .

What makes you laugh?